Dr Erin Torkelson was awarded the 2021 prize for the Best Dissertation in Economic Geography for her dissertation, "Taken for Granted: Geographies of Social Welfare in South Africa."
Dr Erin Torkelson, who has just recently joined Durham Geography, has received top honours from the Economic Geography Specialty Group of the American Association of Geographers for her PhD dissertation, which was awarded the 2021 prize for Best Dissertation in Economic Geography.
Her dissertation, Taken for Granted: Geographies of Social Welfare in South Africa, explores the collision between normative assumptions about cash transfers as public goods and the lived experience of cash transfers as private debts. While most global development theorists assume cash transfers are easy, apolitical monetary instruments, she argues that they are not value-neutral at all, and are increasingly used to “include” poor people in the economy through credit. Through three years of fieldwork, she showed how South Africa’s cash transfer program was outsourced to a private company, Net1 UEPS Technologies, who conscripted recipients into using their grants as collateral for loans. Such loans were risk-free for the lender, who built a segregated and monopolistic banking system, which ensured recipients could not default. The financial technologies of the social grant program did not merely “include” grantees into the same banking system as the rest of the country, but confined them within an entirely separate domain, and subjected them to private indirect rule without public oversight.